When you open a toolbox, you expect to find a range of tools. One can expect to find a hammer, a screwdriver, a socket wrench, some pliers, a saw and a number of other tools. That’s because each tool has a specific set of functions it can accomplish. While you can drive a screw with a hammer, it is more effective and more easily removed when you drive it with a screwdriver. A range of tools provides a carpenter or mechanic with many labor-saving devices and gives the user many more capabilities than a single tool. Imagine a toolbox that contains only hammers. As long as the activity calls for driving nails or pulling nails, the toolbox is helpful. Otherwise the tools are useless.
Now, substitute people and their skills and interests for tools. One of the reasons we use teams to solve problems is that they are meant to be comprised of people who bring different skills and perspectives to bear on the problem. If everyone has the same perspective, the same skills, the same aptitudes and knowledge, there’s not a lot of value to the team. Yet that’s what happens with many innovation initiatives. A homogeneous team that adapts itself to the existing context and conditions rather than challenges them, or is unbalanced in terms of skills, interests and capabilities is a common innovation mistake.
Different perspectives, different insights
Good research from books like The Innovator’s DNA indicate that different people have different innovation skills. The Innovator’s DNA identifies five characteristics of successful innovators, which means we should be able to identify people who are more likely to be innovators from those who are less likely. Further psychological research presents us with the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory, which uses Myers-Brigs research to show that some people are more likely to “adapt” to their situations, while others are more likely to innovate to change their situations. The KAI metric can indicate who on your team is more accommodating to existing conditions, and who is likely to try to change existing conditions.
Other research demonstrates something we already know but often forget – there really are “idea people”. Foursight, based on years of research, identifies four innovation “roles” that are necessary for innovation to succeed: Clarifier, Ideator, Developer and Implementor. I won’t go into great detail about the four categories, but suffice it to say that Ideators enjoy generating ideas, while Developers and Implementors enjoy extending ideas and developing new products based on ideas, but don’t necessarily enjoy generating ideas. Imagine a brainstorming team made up of Developers and Implementors! I don’t have to imagine it, because I’ve lived it. Like the toolbox that contains only hammers, an idea generation team that is composed of people who are comfortable adapting to the situation, or who prefer developing ideas generated by others is less than proficient.
Just as a baseball team needs speedy singles hitters, clutch RBI men and a sprinkling of long ball hitters, an innovation teams needs the right array of skills and at the right time. Carefully consider the skills and proclivities of your team.